Obrázky stránek




officers of his staff, and expressing his obligations to the army in general, he continued : “I consider it as an indispensable duty to close this last act of my official life, by 1783. commending the interests of our dearest country to the protection of Almighty God, and those who have the superintendence of them, to his holy keeping."

“Having now finished the work assigned me, I retire from the great theatre of action, and, bidding an affectionate farewell to this august body, under whose orders I have so long acted, I here offer my commission, and take my leave of all the employments of public life.”

The President of Congress, General Mifflin, who, in the darkest hour of the revolution, had favored the Conway Cabal, replied : “Sir, the United States, in congress assembled, receive with emotions too affecting for utterance, the solemn resignation of the authorities under which you have led their troops with success through a perilous and doubtful war. We join with you in commending the interests of our dearest country to the protection of Almighty God; and for you, we address to Him our earnest prayers, that a life so beloved may be fostered with all His care ; that your days may be as happy as they have been illustrious ; and that he will finally give you that reward which this world cannot give.” Washington hastened to Mount Vernon, which he had not visited for eight years, except for a few hours while on his way against Cornwallis.

Independence was at last attained, but at immense 1784. sacrifices. The calamities of war were visible in the ruins of burned towns, in the ravaged country, in the prostration of industry, and in the accumulation of debts. These amounted to one hundred and seventy millions of dollars— a sum enormous in proportion to the resources of the country-two-thirds of this debt had been contracted by Congress, and the remainder by the individual States.

CHAP. These were evils, but there were still greater which XXXVIII.

came home to the domestic hearth. Frequently the mem1784. bers of families had taken different sides, some were Whigs

and some were Tories; and that remorseless rancor which so often prevails in times of civil discord, extended throughout the land. It is pleasant to record, that in the course of a few years, a forgiving spirit among the people led to the repeal of the severe laws enacted against the Tories, and very great numbers of them repented of their misguided loyalty and returned to their native land.

On the conclusion of peace the English merchants, alive to their interests, flooded the States with manufactured goods at very reduced prices. This operation ruined the domestic manufactures, which the non-importation association, and necessities of the war had created and cherished, drained the country of its specie, and involved the merchants and people in debt. This poverty was followed by discontent, which prevailed more or less, and

excited disturbances in several of the States. 1786. In Massachusetts a thousand men assembled at WorDec. 25.

cester, under the leadership of Daniel Shays, and forced the Supreme Court to adjourn, to prevent its issuing writs for the collection of debts.

Governor Bowdoin called out the militia, which was

put under the command of General Lincoln, who in a few 1787.

weeks suppressed the outbreak. It was evident, however, Jan. that there was among the people a strong feeling of sym

pathy with the insurgents, for the vast majority of themselves labored under similar grievances.

This distress was overruled for good. It was the means of bringing all the States to view with favor a union under the same constitution, and thus form a government which should have power to act for the good of the whole country.

The States made trial of independent governments.



but after an experiment of three or four years the result CHAP: proved unsatisfactory. This was especially the case in relation to the subjects of legislation which concerned the 1787. whole country ; such as the regulation of commerce, the common defence, the adjustment of controversies between one State and another, and making of treaties with other nations.

These difficulties were increasing-many interests clashed. Some of the States passed laws which conflicted with those of their sisters ; since the close of the war, commerce had increased very rapidly, but American merchants were still excluded by the British from the West India trade. They complained to Congress, but the States had not yet conceded authority to that body, to regulate commerce or to legislate for the whole country.

Some States had good harbors, and imported merchandise upon which duties were imposed at the expense of their neighbors ; and ports competed with each other by lowering the rate of imports. Thus there were rival ports on the Delaware ; and Maryland and Virginia competed with each other for the trade of the Chesapeake, while New Jersey and Connecticut were laid under contribution by their neighbors of New York and Massachusetts. No State could protect itself by retaliation against the restrictions of foreign countries, as the attempt would throw its own trade into the hands of a sister rival.

Efforts were made to obviate these evils, and those States bordering on the waters of the Chesapeake and Potomac sent delegates to a convention held at Alexandria, to establish a uniform tariff of duties on the merchandise brought into their ports. This led to correspondence between the prominent men of the country and the legislatures. Another convention was held at Annapolis, to which there were representatives from only five States; finally, the people elected delegates to meet in

CHAP: Convention in Philadelphia, to revise the Articles of Cone


federation. 1787. On the 14th of May, the members of the Convention

met in the State House, in Philadelphia, in the same hall where the Declaration of Independence was made. Washington, who, since the war, had lived in retirement at Mount Vernon, appeared as a delegate. He was unanimously chosen President of the Convention.

The Convention resolved to sit with closed doors; not even a transcript of their minutes was permitted to be made public. The articles of the old confederation, found to be very defective, were thrown aside, and the Convention addressed itself to framing an independent constitution.

There were present about fifty delegates, representatives from eleven different States, all of whom had the confidence of their fellow-citizens, and were distinguished for their intellectual and moral worth and experience in public affairs. Some had been members of the Stamp Act Congress in 1765, some of the Continental Congress in 1774, and some were also among the signers of the Declaration of Independence. Conspicuous was the venerable Dr. Franklin, now in his eightieth year, who, thirty years before, at a convention at Albany, had proposed a plan of union for the colonies.

The various disturbances in different parts of the land had shaken the faith of many in the power of the multitude to govern themselves. Said Elbridge Gerry, in the Convention : “All the evils we experience flow from an excess of democracy. The people do not want virtue, but are under the dupes of pretended patriots; they are daily misled into the most baleful measures of opinions."

It was necessary to have a central government, which could give security to all the States, and at the same time not conflict in its powers with their rights.

It was found very difficult to arrange satisfactorily the



• representation in the two branches of the proposed govern- CHAP: ment. The smaller States were alarmed, lest their rights would be infringed upon by the overwhelming majority of

1787. members coming from the larger ones. This difficulty was removed by constituting the Senate, in which the States were represented equally without reference to their population ; each being entitled to two members, while in the House of Representatives the States were to be represented in proportion to their population.

After four months of labor, during which every article was thoroughly discussed, the Constitution was finished and signed by all the members present, with the exception of three ; Gerry, of Massachusetts, George Mason and Edmund Randolph, of Virginia. This result was not obtained without much discussion ; at one time, so adverse were opinions that it was apprehended the Convention would dissolve, leaving its work unfinished. It was then that Franklin proposed they should choose a chaplain to open their sessions by prayer. Said he : “I have lived a long time ; and the longer I live the more convincing proofs I see of this truth, that God governs the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it possible that an empire can rise without his aid?"

The Convention presented the Constitution thus framed to Congress, and that body submitted it to the people of the States for their approval or rejection.

It was a document of compromises ; probably not a member of the Convention was perfectly satisfied with it. There were three prominent compromises ; the first, the equal representation in the Senate, a concession to the smaller States ; the second, that in the enumeration of the inhabitants three-fifths of the slaves were to be included in determining the ratio of representation in the lower house of Congress ; a concession to the slaveholders ;

« PředchozíPokračovat »